More than 1 million Americans are awaiting a hearing with an average wait of two years.
"In the last couple of years, we've seen applications decline, yet the backlog went from unacceptable to extremely unacceptable," said Mike Stein of Allsup, which represents people attempting to qualify for disability benefits. "I say that as an advocate of people simply asking for a yes or no from the government. Citizens should have some money in the bank for a rainy day. But when you get to the hearing level, who has that kind of rainy day fund?"
Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee where he serves as the chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee and sits on the Health Subcommittee, said the status quo is "unacceptable."
Since becoming chairman, Johnson has held 18 hearings on the disability benefits program, including as recently as Sept. 6. In February, Johnson called on President Donald Trump to nominate a Social Security Commissioner, a position that remains unfilled.
"To make matters worse, these long wait times make getting back to work even harder for those who don't qualify for benefits. The status quo is unacceptable," Johnson said in a statement to the Star-Telegram. "That's why I recently held a hearing on this issue, where we discussed with the Social Security Administration what actions it's taking to address this issue and what obstacles it's facing.
"Social Security needs a Senate-confirmed Commissioner who can lead the agency and focus on providing the service Americans expect and deserve."
Tovar and his wife, Mina, have exhausted their rainy day fund, and then some.
Four years after nerve damage in his feet forced Tovar to leave his job at Poly-America in Grand Prairie -- where he worked for 20 years, and where his wife, Mina, 47, continues to work -- Tovar reluctantly applied for disability benefits in August 2016.
He just thought he'd surely eventually be able to return to work or find a job that didn't require him to be on his feet for hours a time. When the nerve damage spread to his hands and arms, Tovar lost all ability to work.
Tovar was denied disability benefits in July and requested a hearing in August. It could be two years before he gets that hearing.